Nicola Moody is a fine art and textile artist, whose latest exhibition ‘Tear and Repair’ will arrive at Bradford Cathedral in the new year of 2022. We caught up with her ahead of January to find out more about her work, the exhibition and what visitors to the cathedral can expect.
We began by asking her about her area of artistry. “I am a fine art textile artist, by which I mean I don’t create textiles for upholstery: I create textiles to be seen as works of art in their own right, and within that I make use of the many historical references that are available within our language that relate to textiles.”
Many phrases that we commonly use date back to the prevalence of the textile industry from the industrial revolution onwards, seen especially in areas such as Bradford, which is still home to many mills.
“Our language is steeped in references; we talk about hanging by a thread, wearing thin; or weaving ideas together. Often the language that we use is referencing techniques and specific points related to textiles. What I try and do within my practice is to make manifest these ways of describing experiences.”
Tear and Repair saw Nicola working in collaboration with Luton-based charity Azalea, who ‘empower men and women to choose to walk free from being caught up in sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation’. She ran a series of workshops with the women who went to the charity for support.
“I volunteer for the charity, it works with women caught in sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery and they’re now reaching out to the men some of whom are exploiters and buyers. They are trying to take a 360 degree approach to the problem. I have worked there for a long time and I have come to know many of the women. I started working there in the first place because I have a great belief in the power of creativity to support mental health, it can be quite a transformative experience.
Many of the women at Azalea have had so much taken from them, and I wanted to give something back to them, help them to create rather than have things taken from them. I set aside a particular period of time and identified key women who were further on their journey to recovery and invited them to share their stories with me. I also set up some drop in sessions, and within these workshops the participants were able to explored some of the textile techniques, through weaving, felt making, stitching etc. The purpose of the workshops was to help them to understand how I could express their stories using textile techniques.
Five women were brave enough to share their stories with me. I recorded them and then translated them into textile art. They found the fact that they were sharing their stories, and that their stories were then going to be seen in some format, empowering, and they were keen to share. They were very open and incredibly honest with me and I felt very honoured.”
These conversations led to the creation of five woven artworks, each one an interpretation of their stories in the language of textiles.
“Each textile looks very different. In some of them the colour is hugely significant, this referenced some of the drug taking. Some of them deliberately have holes or frayed areas; some of them have specific patterning; some of them have areas that are incredibly thin. In different parts of the weaving there are holes and areas where warp and weft threads are left hanging, and at other points those weft threads are scooped up and re-threaded and become stronger elements.”
This style of repairing resembles real-life, as Nicola goes on to explain.
“Even though things can fray around the edges, there are methods by which things can be restored and I think often if you darn something, which is in itself a form of weaving, that section becomes stronger than the rest of the cloth because it has had individual attention.”
The artworks are installed within five 1m x 2m copper frames.
“They’re designed so that you can walk around them, so you can see through them, so that you can move from one to the other.”
In most venues there has been an opportunity for a community weave, so visitors to the exhibition are also able to try weaving.
“I think it’s something that people understand but rarely have hands-on experience.”
The exhibition is supported by additional material and a film, in which Nicola explains how the project came into being.
“I talk about red threads, because each of the woven hangings has red threads running through them and that references Rahab in the Bible and how she let down a red cord to let the spies escape.It also referencing Ariadne and how she unravels a red thread so that Theseus could get back out of the maze. The red thread becomes a symbol of finding your way back home or a means of escape, and so it runs through each of the five narratives.”
The ‘Tear and Repair’ tour has been impacted by the pandemic. It was supposed to take place throughout 2020 but it only went to 4 Cathedrals before the country went into lockdown. It began again in Derby in May 2021 and will conclude it’s tour of cathedrals at Bradford in January 2022. It will then be exhibited in St Mary’s Church in the heart of Luton in Feb 2022.This will allow many supporters and guests of Azalea and the women themselves to see the work.
Since the start of Tear and Repair Nicola has gone on to gain additional arts council funding for ‘Painted Warp’ a project in which she was able to explore natural dyeing.
“Working with natural products is obviously much better for the environment so I’m really keen to build my skills in that area, and I’m hoping that I may be able to work with organisations like the National Trust, and other kind of visitor centres in the future, where I could create work that has actually been dyed using these natural processes. I’m hoping the use of natural dyeing will become more embedded in my practice.”
So, what future plans does Nicola have?
I am currently studying towards a Doctorate in Fine Art at the University of Hertfordshire. My project is ‘Metaphors in weaving and weaving as a metaphor’ An investigation into knowledge generated by hand-weaving as an artistic process. I am fortunate to have received a bursary for this research. It is wonderful to be able to spend time thinking and generating work that rigorously explores the role that weaving can have in the generation of knowledge.
And how has COVID affected Nicola as an artist?
“It’s given time for a lot of artists to really reflect and consolidate their ideas, because there’s been a bit more space, without perhaps the time pressures of exhibiting.I think there will be more people becoming aware of the benefits of creativity. I think a lot of people have used lockdown, and periods of furlough, to explore new projects and develop new skills.
I think in time artists will have a lot to say about how people have experienced this pandemic. I often think that the role of art is to draw people’s attention to what’s going on around them. I think a lot of artists will use all that they have learned through the pandemic as a means of pointing out what’s gone on; the hidden stuff as well as that which is much more visible. They will also question the way we should conduct ourselves as we move into the next phase of life, whatever that’s going to look like!”
‘Tear and Repair’ takes place in Bradford Cathedral until Monday 7th February (the Cathedral is closed for visitors Mon 10th – Fri 14th January).